Thursday, August 21, 2014
Dealing with redundancyBY NADINE WILSON Career & Education staff reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
LAST May, Christopher Biggs, 36, joined the long list of Jamaicans made redundant, as the global recession forced several companies to cut staff and others to close.
Biggs, a father of one, was handed his redundancy letter -- along with more than 800 of his colleagues -- after working with ALPART in St Elizabeth for more than a decade. Now close to a year later, the former bauxite worker has not been able to secure another job and has had to adjust his lifestyle to ensure survival.
"I have to prioritise in terms of where I go and when. I also have to economise in terms of buying clothes and that sort of thing, because without a job, you don't have any income coming in," he told Career & Education.
Fortunately for him, his former employer spent three months mentally preparing him and his colleagues for the separation, through sensitisation seminars and counselling sessions. The company also invited representatives from various financial institutions to come in and speak to them about investment options.
Data from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security reveals that 20,178 people have been made redundant since 2008. Only last month, 100 employees of the National Commercial Bank (NCB) were made redundant while Air Jamaica employees are bracing for April 12 when their services with the national carrier will be terminated.
Under the law, there is a distinction between a redundancy and a layoff. A company can layoff a person for up to four months and then take them back but in a redundancy, it is the post that is cut. Once a post is cut, the worker is entitled to certain benefits which are set out in the Employment (Termination and Redundancy Payments) Act.
Under the act, a person is entitled to notice from their employer or payment in lieu of notice, as well a redundancy payment, which is based on his/her years of service to the company. People employed up to five years are entitled to two weeks' notice or two weeks' pay, if notice is not given within this time period. Those working with a company for between five and 10 years should be given four weeks' notice, while those working for between 10 and 15 years are entitled to six weeks' notice. Those employed for between 15 and 20 years are entitled to eight weeks' notice while those with the organisation for over 20 years get up to 12 weeks' notice.
"You either give the person notice or pay in lieu of notice. In some situations, it might not be practical to give notice, so the person gets pay in lieu of notice," said chief technical director at the Ministry of Labour and Social Security Errol Miller.
Workers are also entitled to redundancy payment if they have spent two years or more with the company. Under the act, a person who has worked with a company for up to 10 years is entitled to two weeks payment for each year of service. On the other hand, a person who has been with the company for over 10 years is entitled to three weeks pay for each year of service. The company is also obligated under the law to pay the worker all outstanding payments, such as for vacation leave.
But although the law is clear, president of the National Workers' Union Vincent Morrison said some companies fail to comply.
"A lot of industrial disputes that we have in Jamaica is the way in which redundancies are handled," said the trade unionists.
A major source of concern for him are situations where a company cuts a worker from a particular post and then employs someone else for the same position.
"Under the law, redundancy is defined as the loss of the job," he explained. "But what we have are situations where oftentimes people are going off and the job still exists. So you are leaving your job at 2 o'clock this evening and by 5, somebody is coming in to do the same job that you were doing."
Morrison also has a problem with cases where workers are handed redundancy letters without advanced notice. In January this year, scores of Ritz Carlton Hotel employees in St James protested at the gates of the resort after turning up one morning for work only to receive redundancy letters. The workers argued that the move was not only swift, but also unprofessional.
"That is a good example of a bad example as to how a redundancy should be handled," said Morrison who noted that a redundancy can be a traumatic experience for some and should be handled sensitively.
"Think about the worker who may have a young baby, who may have purchased a house... I have seen big men come into my office and cry. Redundancy brings on tremendous trauma, tremendous pressure. Consultation assists greatly in taking out some of the trauma; it helps to smooth the wrinkles and make it much easier for those who, through no fault of their own or of management sometimes, have to go," he said.
Biggs said that although he is without a job, the fact that his organisation consulted with the workers helped to make the situation more bearable.
"It was done professionally... You were informed that the company was suffering," he said.
A former NCB employee, aged 45, who was among those made redundant last month, said she, too, was satisfied with the bank's handling of the redundancies.
"I really don't have an issue with how it was done... I got a bit of notice," the mother of two told Career & Education.
The woman, who worked with NCB for 20 years added that she has not started to search for a job yet, but is instead taking the time to spend with her children.
However, like Biggs, she has made changes to her lifestyle -- including getting rid of her credit cards -- to ensure her family successfully weathers the financial storm.
"The bank has given me the opportunity and you take it and you move on. You can't look at it (redundancy) negatively; I certainly didn't. I mean I spent 20 years of my life there and I didn't expect to spend it there forever," she said, adding that she intends to invest the money she received in her children's education.
Biggs received his pension, in addition to his redundancy payment and has invested primarily in real estate.
"It (real estate) is a long-term investment. I also bought a car which I plan to run taxi with for the short term. I will also be venturing into farming, so as to make myself sustainable," he said.
While the law does not speak to how soon a person should be paid following the termination of their services, Miller said companies ought to make every effort to pay within a reasonable time frame.
"I think that a reasonable employer, having made the worker redundant, wouldn't wait until a year to pay the person their benefits... but will make all efforts to pay the person as quickly as possible," he said.
Companies, under the law, also have no obligation to the terminated worker. Still, companies such as NCB, have hosted seminars and counselling sessions for those they made redundant to help them cope with the trauma of losing their jobs.
GraceKennedy has done the same.
"To assist affected staff with the transition, the company usually extends some benefits for a period of time beyond the termination date. Outplacement support services may also include counselling and financial advice, as well as financial assistance for a short skills-training course," said group chief operating officer, Don Wehby, in an e-mailed response to Career & Education queries.
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